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Theatre Review (Singapore): Avenue Q

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The Off Broadway and Broadway hit Avenue Q is being staged by Base Entertainment at the Marina Bay Sands Grand Theatre from 27 September to 7h October 2012.

With the help of manned puppets, Avenue Q tells the story of Princeton (Noel Rayos), a fresh university graduate looking to make his mark on the world. He comes to live in Avenue Q with some colorful neighbours like Kate Monster (Rachel Alejandro), the grumpy but kind Trekkie (Bibo Reyes), and housemates Rod (Noel Rayos) and Nicky (Bibo Reyes). In the course of the tale, Princeton dates and falls in love with Kate Monster, only to be sidelined by the seductive Lucy Slut (Rachel Alejandro), as Rod struggles with being gay and Kate dreams of starting a school for Monsters. In the end as his neighbours Christmas Eve (Anna Fegi) and Brian (Jamie Wilson) marry, Princeton realises that life is not a fairy tale. Not even for puppets.

With very catchy music, the songs in Avenue Q are not about sweet things; rather, the lyrics capture the truth about life. Songs such as “The Internet is for Porn”, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “What Do You Do with a BA in English?“ earnestly reflect true life. They are refreshing as they don’t try to put a veil on the nastiness and messiness of life, but instead the lyrics capture the true essence of living and what it means to be a human being. Truth be told, as one song, “Schadenfreude”, suggests, aren’t there moments we are gleeful when something bad happens to someone else, and not us? We just don’t talk about the bad side of human nature. But Avenue Q is not afraid to do just that.

Avenue Q also does get rude, provocative, and sexual, as in the scene where Princeton and Kate have sex in various positions during the song “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love)”. Despite being undertaken by puppets, the realistic love-making actions are bound to make some audience members blush.

The three types of puppets used are single rod, double rod, and live hands, and in this musical, the actors manning the puppets are clearly visible and often tasked with acting out the expressions on their faces as well as handling the puppets’ bodies. Rachel Alejandro has to be commended on playing two characters that are quite opposites. As Kate, Alejandro is sweet and naïve, and as Lucy she is lower-toned and speaks seductively.

The equally talented Noel Rayos plays both the effeminate but in-the-closet Rod and the charming Princeton with a distinct voice, gestures, and mannerisms for each. Likewise Bibo Reyes flits effortlessly between playing the hoarse Trekkie and the smart-arse Nicky, giving a variety of expressions to each.

The best singing voice has to be Anna Fegi’s. She is also hilarious as the Japanese human who speaks broken English, Christmas Eve. Fegi has an impressive range in singing, hitting notes up in the rafters many times with strength and full-bodied tone.

The only uncomfortable aspect of Avenue Q is the fact that the actors are clearly seen manning the puppets. Many times this detracted from suspending disbelief.

Also the songs didn’t seem punchy enough, as often the accompanying music was too tinny and light and did not support the climaxes of the songs and voices as it should. More instruments in the orchestration would help solve this problem easily.

Nevertheless, Avenue Q is fun entertainment that‘s unabashed and realistic. Just leave the kids at home because these puppets are going to be honest and true, and no child needs to know so much of the reality of life just yet.

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About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.